Bassist, producer, composer, and all-around musician Marcus Miller has been a student and a leader, a creator and an interpreter, a master and a mentor in the art form of music – from his teen years to the present – with many more miles to go before he sleeps…a profound past paving the way to an as yet unfathomable future. Marcus continues this legacy with A Night in Monte-Carlo, a live audio document of an amazing concert he was commissioned to perform on November 29, 2008 in the “rich man’s playground” of Monaco – a performance of music of his choice, much of it from his pen, featuring his arrangements for symphony orchestra. It features Marcus leading both his quartet and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, with special guests: trumpeter Roy Hargrove as well as singer, songwriter and guitarist Raul Midón. “I was invited by Jean-René Palacio, the Artistic Director for the principality of Monaco to present some of my music with the orchestra on the French Riviera,” Marcus recalls. No stranger to the area, as he has performed there many times AND played there on his downtime as a race car buff during the Grand Prix, Marcus relished the opportunity of sharing his music in the breathtaking and intimate 600-seat Monte-Carlo Opera House.
“The ceiling and every wall beneath is adorned with the most unbelievable murals,” Marcus marvels. “The setting was gorgeous.” More amazing were the fabulous musicians of the symphony. “The Monte-Carlo Orchestra was very hip. They were enthusiastic about my music and understood right away the sound I was trying to get,” Marcus enthuses. “After the first day of rehearsal, they all lined up to shake my hand! That put me totally at ease and made this the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had with a symphony. My band and the orchestra became good friends over those three days of rehearsal.
A Night in Monte-Carlo closes with two very special pieces. The first is Marcus’ reverent yet contemporary interpolation of the spiritual “Amazing Grace” which he calls “Your Amazing Grace” that features him on an instrument that has fast become his most singular voice, the bass clarinet. That is followed by an inspired 11th hour addition, “Strange Fruit,” recorded in his Los Angeles recording studio. The chilling portrait of racial hatred that Billie Holiday first performed in 1939 on the stage of Café Society, the title metaphorically conjures the bodies of black men, women and child lynch victims hanging from trees in the American south in the not so distant past. It is an image and meditation that Miller brings to highly emotive recall in his musical history lesson for orchestra, crying its blues through his mournful bass clarinet accompanied by the piano of his frequent friend and collaborator Herbie Hancock.
Reflecting on the Monte Carlo concert, Marcus states, “I loved that the audience was full of so many people who had never experienced anything like this. Some were jazz lovers who’d never been to a symphony or vice versa, or young people seeing their first jazz concert. Personally, I was very inspired by the collaboration with the orchestra…so much so that the sound lingered in my mind long afterward. When I returned to my studio in Los Angeles, I arranged and recorded “Strange Fruit” and added it as a bonus track to the Monte Carlo CD as a reflection of the impression this experience has left on me.”
Since this recording was made in 2008, Marcus has presented A Night In Monte-Carlo with the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic featuring Lalah Hathaway and Raul Midón for the 50th Anniversary of Jazz a Juan in the summer of 2010, and more recently at the Tokyo Jazz Festival with the NHK Symphony Orchestra featuring Roberta Flack and young trumpeter, Christian Scott. He has tailored each program to include his special guests and plans to continue to do so with various artists for upcoming shows.